1 Corinthians 15 is the longest biblical treatment of the believers’ resurrection. Paul describes Jesus as the “firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” Those who have fallen asleep are Christians who have already died. When the “firstfruits” of crops came in, they were a guarantee of more to come. Paul means, then, that Christ’s resurrection is a guarantee of more to come.
The resurrection will happen when Jesus returns. “Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him” (1 Cor 15:23). Those who belong to Jesus are resurrected at His return. When Jesus comes, He will hand the kingdom to His Father, because every enemy, authority, power, and dominion will have been defeated (1 Cor 15:24). The Last Enemy is death, which will be overcome when the resurrection of believers occurs. For believers, death is still an enemy, because Paul himself calls it an enemy. The reason death is an enemy, even for believers, is because the bodies of dead believers are still bound by the cords of death. But at the return of Christ, death will be defeated once for all, and bodies will be raised.
The resurrected body will have both continuity and discontinuity with our present body. First of all, the resurrected body will still be us, and will likely bear physical resemblances. But there will be discontinuity as well. For example, our present bodies get sick, bleed, bruise, break, age, and die. But the resurrected body will be incorruptible, imperishable: it will never experience pain, it will never wear down, and it will never die.
God gives bodies appropriate to the state of existence. For example, God gives plants, animals, fish, and humans appropriate earthly bodies (1 Cor 15:37-39). But God also gives the sun and stars the splendor and glory of a heavenly body, in a heavenly realm (1 Cor 15:40-41). God is able to provide humans earthly bodies appropriate for a worldly existence in this life, and God is able to provide glorified bodies for a transformed, renewed existence in the life to come (1 Cor 15:42).
The reason the fullness of God’s kingdom must be inhabited by saints with resurrected bodies is: perishable flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor 15:50). The nature and make-up of our present bodies are inappropriate for existence in God’s new world. So God will resurrect believers to inhabit the consummation of His kingdom.
God will accomplish the resurrection of believers by His mighty power. Instantaneously, His mighty power will effect the change of corruptible bodies to incorruptible bodies (1 Cor 15:50-52). The perishable will be clothed with imperishable, like putting on a new garment (1 Cor 15:53-54).
Let’s sum up the doctrine of the resurrection by answering 6 basic questions from 1 Corinthians 15. “Who?” Believers. “What?” They will be raised. “When?” At Christ’s return. “Where?” At the renewal of all things, on God’s new world. “Why?” Because our present bodies cannot inherit the kingdom of God. Therefore the perishable must be clothed with imperishable. “How?” By the power of God, which will overthrow the Last Enemy, death.